I have three brief topics for today.
An Alleged Jewish Pyramid Conspiracy
First, I don’t really have much to say about, but figure I should mention, yesterday’s story in the Jerusalem Post reporting claims by Egyptian heritage activist Amir Gamal that Israeli operatives are infiltrating archaeological teams in order to fabricate evidence that the Jews built the pyramids of Egypt. According to Gamal, the Israelis are plotting to identify Pharaoh Sheshonq I with the Biblical King Shishak (a rather common identification made long ago and supported by a stela at Megiddo) in order to claim the gold of Egypt as the Temple treasure stolen by Shishak during his invasion of Judah (2 Chronicles 12:9). Similar claims have popped up over the last few years, particularly after the fall of Pres. Hosni Mubarak and the ouster of Antiquities Minister Zahi Hawass, largely due to nationalism and continued popular resentment over what many Egyptians and Islamists see as the country’s too-friendly relationship with Israel.
Sam Harris Finds Religion... of a Sort
Second, since I repeatedly discuss the way the ancient astronaut theory and even fringe archaeology have been overtaken by a quasi-spiritual quest for transcendence—whether through communion with space brothers, drug-fueled romps in the spirit dimension, or the discovery of the “truth” about Jesus and the sacred feminine—it is only right that I report that New Atheist Sam Harris has joined with them in declaring his newfound belief that spirituality is essential for a fulfilled life. According to a book review in this week’s eSkeptic, Harris has declared an idiosyncratic form of Buddhism essentially the one true scientific religion, praising Buddhism for its atheist spirituality and writing in favor of atheists adopting meditation techniques to achieve the negation of the self and contact with the true essence of consciousness beyond the illusion of the unified self. Harris’s version of Buddhism is apparently unique to him, and he is presenting himself as a spiritual guru for achieving transcendence.
I haven’t read the book and can’t comment on whether Harris makes a compelling case that such negation of the self is either rational or desirable (this would seem to be a value judgment since an argument could be made that preserving a sense of self is more fulfilling), but I find it fascinating that Harris achieves his results through the same combination of meditation and drug ingestion that Graham Hancock uses to enter the spirit dimension and meet with demons and angels. When people as diverse as lost civilization advocates, ancient astronaut theorists, and atheist activists are all working toward the same spiritual ends, it certainly must say something about a certain reaction occurring in our culture right now, one that I think is reflected also in the rise of evangelical Christianity and the creationist movement that so closely parallels fringe archaeology. It’s a cultural revitalization movement in embryo, struggling to find a new way to reconstruct the old pillars of culture.
I would challenge, incidentally, the idea that humans have an innate longing for spiritual transcendence. Some people might, but certainly not everyone, and the modern notion that individuals should have a special and individualized relation to the divine (or, for atheists, the transcendent non-self) is a rather recent phenomenon. Through most of recorded history, so far as we know religion was rather transactional (sacrifice X in order to receive Y), and in the past most religious rites were entrusted to specialists. Individuals in many societies had only an indirect relationship to “spirituality” as we think of it. I’m reading a book about medieval England right now that noted that during the six years of the interdict the pope imposed on England during the reign of King John there was not a single recorded complaint that mass had been suspended, or that anyone cared much for the supposed spiritual consequences of it. As I understand it, in the West the idea of having an ongoing and continuous individual relationship with the divine (as opposed to rare and extraordinary experiences more typical of Classical paganism) is a Protestant innovation, and the idea of the desirability of the individual achieving transcendence is still more recent.
Just as Harris earlier argued that middle class American morality was objectively correct and ordained by the laws of physics, he also seems to think that modern American notions of desirable and effective spiritual goals are also provable by neuroscience and physics. To the contrary, I think he is rationalizing culturally specific expressions of faith particular to the perceived needs of this time and this place.
Bergier’s Encounters with Lovecraft
Finally, I wanted to call your attention to a paragraph I’ve added to my article about Jacques Bergier, Louis Pauwels, and H. P. Lovecraft. As you will recall, one of the criticisms I’ve received about my Cult of Alien Gods is the claim that there is little evidence that Jacques Bergier’s and Louis Pauwels’s Morning of the Magicians was influenced by H. P. Lovecraft in the development of its version of the ancient astronaut theory. In the comments on a previous blog post, EP asked about Jacques Bergier’s letters to Weird Tales in the 1930s, and this prompted me to collect a bit more evidence that I did not previously have access to that demonstrates that Bergier wasn’t just familiar with Lovecraft prior to Morning of the Magicians but that Lovecraft shaped Bergier’s perception of ancient mysteries.
Here’s what I’ve added:
[Bergier] discovered the works of Lovecraft in Weird Tales at the Gibert-Joseph book store in the early 1930s, and two letters from him were published in Weird Tales in 1936 and 1937. The first praises Lovecraft and other weird authors for their work. The second makes plain the debt Bergier owed to Lovecraft for shaping his cosmic thinking: Lovecraft, he wrote in honor of the author's March 1937 death, "has been so well received in France, because he was crying out against the absurdity of a scientific civilization encroaching upon man. [...] The passing of Lovecraft seems to me to mark an end of an epoch in the history of American imaginative fiction." Both Bergier and Pauwels, inspired by Lovecraft's philosophy and vision, published some of the first French editions of Lovecraft's work. In 1955, Bergier published an edition of Lovecraft translated by Bernard Noël in which he included his own preface, titled (in French) "Lovecraft: The Great Genius from Elsewhere." This same piece was recycled later as the first story in Planetè, the magazine published by Pauwels and Bergier.
Bergier was a student of chemical engineering in the 1930s, but it was his reading of weird fiction in the 1930s that caused him to begin an interest in alchemy and thus ancient mysteries. In fact, according to Bergier himself, he took up the mantle of alchemy only in 1938--after he had already absorbed Weird Tales and decided Lovecraft was a genius, one whose vision would shape his own. This is why, in Morning, Bergier cites Lovecraft by name, calls him the father of science fiction, and declares him “the greatest poet and champion of the theory of parallel universes.” In 1975, describing how science fiction defined his worldview in life, Bergier all but paraphrased Lovecraft. Bergier stated (as I translate) that science fiction offers “victory over time, over space, over the hostility of the universe, victory gained through technique.” Compare that to Lovecraft, for whom weird fiction allowed him “to achieve, momentarily, the illusion of some strange suspension or violation of the galling limitations of time, space, and natural law…” as he wrote in “Notes on Writing Weird Fiction.” Since we know Bergier considered Lovecraft a science fiction author, there can really be no question how much he owed to “the great genius” who shaped his conception of time, space, and—yes—ancient aliens.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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